Archive for the ‘Review’ Tag

Petrone — Curiosa historia della forchetta   Leave a comment

Edited by Petronio Petrone, this little volume (the title in English would be “Curious History of the Fork”) brings together a number of essays on the history of the fork, a sort of anthology with a collection of photos of forks from European museums. The level of writing is up and down–there’s a short excerpt from Wikipedia, as well as an essay on the origin of pasta that uses etymology to prove the Arab origins of pasta instead of the more obvious (and reliable) historical sources–but it’s a useful little anthology of a subject not often treated. Shame it’s only in Italian.  (Alfredo Guida Editore, 2007)  ZN


Posted January 4, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Diner — Hungering For America   Leave a comment

Nature abhors a vacuum, and pop culture loves a good story. As an explanation for the pasta&pizza-dominated Italian-American cuisine, pop food historians have hypothesized a link between it and the waves of southern Italians who left Italy after unification. The thesis is that these peasants brought with them their culinary traditions—pizza, spaghetti, and dishes made from game (Chicken Cacciatore)—which then became the basis, albeit today somewhat corrupted, of Italian-American food.

Hasia Diner, in her book Hungering For America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration, dedicates two chapters to the foodways of Italians both before and after they left for America. These chapters demolish the hypothesis that Italian-American food was simply typical dishes of these peasants, carried across the Atlantic like so much baggage. As Diner shows, Italian peasants had a miserable diet based on dark bread made from inferior grains, vegetables, and a diet extremely poor in meat and fats. The “Inchiesta Jacini,” a parlamentary inquest of the late 1880s, found that in the province of Umbria the average peasant ate 30g (about a tablespoon) of fat a day, and meat twice a year.

The second of the two chapters that deals with Italian immigrants in the United States details the processes that contributed to this creation of this new cuisine. The cuisine that the Italians created in the United States was a combination of what they had seen nobles eat (indeed, what they had labored to produce for the middle and upper class) and the relative food abundance in the United States. Spaghetti with meatballs, that most Italian-American of all dishes, is the pasta of middle class Italians combined with the meat that former peasants could finally afford. (Harvard University Press, 2003)  ZN

Posted December 17, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Bober – Art, Culture and Cuisine   Leave a comment

Art, Culture and Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy (Phyllis Pray Bober). Bober’s overriding theory – that there is a link between cooking and more generalised cultural trends – can politely go stew. It is presumably right though it is difficult to demonstrate for many of the periods that the author is dealing with. However, this book, which brings together her musings on food from prehistory to the late Gothic style, makes for one of the best general introductions  to food history: and all written by a wise, opinionated and witty scholar whose love affair with food began in her mother’s kitchen in the entre-duex-guerres and continued in the 1960s at NYU with her food recreation workshops. Italian content includes a remarkable rant on the origins of pasta and the question of continuity from Roman to modern Italian cooking. Her final promise to write ‘in a subsequent volume…’ was not, unfortunately, kept. Death intervened in 2002. (University of Chicago 2002). SY

Posted December 1, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Franconie — ‘Things from the New World’   Leave a comment

Franconie, Hélène, ‘Things from the New World in the European Dialects’, Food and Foodways 9 (2000), 21-58. Desperately impressive linguistic study looking principally at the various European names for maize with an attempt to establish priority and origins for these words. Franconie then attempts to apply this model to other American foods including potatoes and the turkey. Italy naturally figures. SY

Purcell – ‘The way we used to eat’   Leave a comment

Purcell, Nicholas ‘The way we used to eat: diet, community and history at Rome’, American Journal of Philology 124 (2003), 329-358. The author looks not at Roman foodways but rather at Romans in the late Republic and early Empire looking back at their own historical (and more often legendary) foodways: boxes within boxes, fleas upon fleas… Enjoy Roman writers – including Pliny and most prominently Varro – musing on pre-imperial Roman simplicity, where acorn-belching Romans (glandem ructante marito Juv vi) feasted on pork and roasted turnips. SY

Posted November 21, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Bongarzoni – Pranzi d’autore   Leave a comment

Pranzi d’autore: Le migliori ricette nei capolavori della letteratura [Authored Meals: The Best Recipes from the Classics of Literature] (Oretta Bongarzoni). Bongarzoni begins with a quotation from Joseph Conrad that, in a very real sense, she spends the rest of the book undermining:  ‘Of all the books produced since the most remote age by human talents and industry those only that treat of cooking are, from a moral point of view, above suspicion.’ Certainly she has brought together a curious and potent series of recipes for dishes mentioned by great authors from Tolstoy (raspberry icecream) to ‘Moses’ (manna!). The detective work behind this slim volume (145 pp.) stands in her having sought out credible ingredients and procedures to substantiate fleeting allusions. Italian content low – four authors out of thirty four – and surprising. So there is Lampedusa but also Comisso, Nievo and Tabucchi. (Riuniti 1994). SY

Posted November 19, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Nash – ‘From Spaghetti to Sushi’   Leave a comment

Nash, Alan ‘‘From Spaghetti to Sushi’: An Investigation of the Growth of Ethnic Restaurants in Montreal, 1951-2001’ , Food, Culture and Society 12 (2009), 5-24. How do you measure the presence of ethnic restaurants in an important cosmopolitan centre? Why turn to the yellow pages, of course! The author, in any case, employs – after requisite methodological hand-wringing – the old telephone directories of Montreal to measure ethnic cuisine in 1951, 1971 and 2001. It is a fascinating exercise and one that nicely traces the rise of Italian cuisine in North America in the post-war period.   SY

Posted November 17, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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